NGO voices in ISDS

Conference table, microphones and office chairs close-up

Beginning in 2001, a number of different NGOs have been active in ISDS proceedings, most commonly in cases with public interest aspects. This includes cases referring to measures related to for example environmental protection and public health.

NGOs may apply to be “a friend of the court”, or commonly referred to as amicus curiae. This means that the organisation contributes with a written submission to assist the tribunal in the assessment of the claims.

Participation of NGOs was initially found only in ISDS cases brought under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The NAFTA parties have issued a joint statement which essentially says that the NAFTA does not prohibit submission of a non-party, in this case may include NGOs.

Methanex Corp v USA was the first case where the tribunal opened up for NGOs to make written submission, which included environmental organizations and research institutes. In addition, these NGOs also attended the hearing. It was followed by Glamis Gold v. USA, where the tribunal received written submission by, among others, a locally-based Quechan Indian Tribe, whose sacred sites and traditions were affected by the investor’s mining project.

Since then the ICSID Arbitration Rules have been amended to clarify that tribunals have the general authority to allow submissions by an organisation which is not a party in the dispute.

NGOs have participated not only in NAFTA cases. In Biwater Gauff v. Tanzania, the tribunal accepted written submission from NGOs with an expertise in human rights, environmental and good governance issues.

A recent development is the participation of international organization in ISDS proceeding, as shown in Phillip Morris v. Uruguay. In this case, not yet decided, the opinions of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat will also be heard, based on the ICSID Arbitration Rules.

In a recent development, the UNCITRAL Transparency Rules, in force as of 1 April 2014, provide that tribunal may allow submission from non-disputing parties for matters within the dispute. Read our previous post on this.